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date: 19 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

The global world brings people increasingly into contact with those from other cultures, or else they read about them in the media, leading them to make comparative judgments about their behavior. Sometimes people make these judgments at a national or international level as nations, multinational organizations, and social action organizations seek to discuss human rights across cultures. Contemporary Western ethics find their origins in discussions of ethics and morality by Immanuel Kant (deontological ethics) and Aristotle (teleological ethics). These and other ethical approaches are certainly relevant to communication scholars and practitioners in general, but those working across cultures face particular ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, interculturalists often do not discuss ethics, or if they do, they discuss them in a brief and superficial way, which might give way to their own ethical stance to color their understanding of others.

Those who discuss ethics face a major tension between seeking a single ethical approach that applies to all cultures (i.e., ethical absolutism) and letting each culture determine its own ethical direction (i.e., cultural relativism, one form of the broader notion of ethical relativism). Various authors have proposed deriving a stance from what ethical stances seem to be universal, much as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights seems to do. Others propose peace or humanitarian ethics that would leave most cultural elements alone in other cultures, but speak when actions, policies, or social situations work against the human dignity of individuals.

Jürgen Habermas, on the other hand, proposes that people seek ideal speech situations, where people can have open dialogue without restraints, such as power differentials. Finally, as a way out of the ethical maze, others have proposed a dialogic or communicative approach that is not relative, but with which people involved in ethical decisions enter discussions with each other, often considering a wide array of contextual factors that might affect ethical outcomes.

Keywords: ethics, morality, teleological perspective, deontological perspective, cultural relativism, metaethic, derived ethical stance, humanitarianism, ideal speech situation, dialogic approach

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